CAMPAIGN: Report links cancer risk with lifestyles

World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) uses research and education programmes to help people make choices that reduce their chances of developing cancer.

Campaign: Launch of report linking cancer risk to lifestyle
Client: World Cancer Research Fund
PR team: In-house, with support from Reynolds Mackenzie
Timescale: March - November 2007
Budget: £10,000 - £20,000

Founded in 1990, the charity was the first cancer charity to create awareness of the relationship between diet and cancer risk and to focus funding on research into diet and cancer prevention.

On 31 October 2007, the charity launched a major report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer, which drew clear links between cancer and lifestyle.

To promote the findings of the report and to increase awareness of the link between lifestyle and cancer. To use the report to raise WCRF's profile.

Strategy and plan
Reynolds MacKenzie, the healthcare media specialist PR agency, advised WCRF on its campaign and put the charity in touch with health journalists. The in-house PR team briefed journalists on the methodology of the report and how it differed from previous studies.

WCRF launched the report at a press conference, where it announced the two main recommendations - to be as lean as possible within the healthy weight range and to avoid processed meats. The charity hired models to show what people with a healthy body mass index look like.

The PR team built up interest in the report by arranging coverage in national newspapers on the Sunday before the launch. After the report was published WCRF commissioned a YouGov survey to test if it had actually increased awareness of the link between cancer and lifestyle.

Measurement and evaluation
The story was included on every television news bulletin on the day of the press conference and was the lead story for the BBC Six O' Clock News and Channel 4's lunchtime news. Live studio interviews with the report's chair were broadcast on Channel 4's evening news and on BBC2's Newsnight. There were 188 mentions in the broadcast media on the day it was launched.

The WCRF secured media coverage in 50 national newspapers including front page pieces in the Daily Mail, The Times, The Sun, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and the Evening Standard. There was also extensive coverage in the regional press. The BBC website had 800,000 hits concerning the story, and there were more than 1,000 articles across the internet.

During the first ten days after the launch of the report, it was downloaded 30,268 times from the website. As a result of the campaign the proportion of people who knew of the link between cancer and lifestyle increased.

The survey, carried out by YouGov, found an increase in awareness of the link between cancer and diet, physical activity and alcohol. Professor Martin Wiseman, project director of the WCRF report, said: 'This survey suggests that millions more Britons now know that cancer is not just a question of fate but that instead they can affect their risk by the choices they make.'

The research revealed that the proportion of Britons who realise that being overweight increases cancer risk has risen from 47 per cent to 67 per cent; the proportion that know eating a poor diet increases the risk of cancer grew from 54 per cent to 71 per cent, and the number of people aware of the link between alcohol and cancer has gone up from 35 per cent to 49 per cent.

Chris Genasi, chief executive of Eloqui PR, has run a number of social marketing campaigns aimed at changing public attitudes towards issues such as disability, racial discrimination and adopting greener lifestyles.

Reading this, I felt for the PR team at the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), whose collective hearts must have sank when they were given this frankly dull report to publicise. The study tells us what we already know - namely that our lifestyle, and what we eat, influence our chance of getting cancer.

However, despite this, WCRF secured great results. It was clever to focus on processed meats as the bogeyman, rather than spread the attack too widely. The media love to bash processed food, so giving them the headline that sausages give you cancer was a gift.

More expert PR was evident in saying that we have to be even leaner than we already are - just being 'a healthy weight' is no longer good enough. This tapped in to the media fascination with the ever-moving goalposts of what is good for us. I liked the use of models to personify a healthy BMI, which gave some strong visuals.

On a critical note, I think it would have been more meaningful to track behaviour rather than awareness as the evaluation method. I also think it is disappointing that it involved relatively little digital comms, given the high level of online interest and web traffic on this topic.

I very much doubt this campaign achieved its secondary goal of raising awareness of WCRF. My guess is people might remember the survey, but not the organisation behind it.

I do think the level of coverage is remarkable given the totally obvious findings. Perhaps it was a slow news day, but either way, the team has done an excellent job.

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